Workflows - How the flow comes into the work!


Whether it's manufacturing a product, providing a service or producing marketing material, when your company has a task to perform, it often involves many employees. In order to solve the task, they have to perform subtasks according to their specialization or responsibility.

Some things have to be done in a certain order, while others can be done in parallel. The individual results are combined bit by bit until the desired overall result is achieved. If this process takes place repeatedly, the company refers to it as a workflow. Take a quick look at Wikipedia:

"A workflow is a chain of functions or services that is closed in terms of content, logically connected in terms of time and subject matter and that is necessary for the processing of a business entity [...].

Let's take an example. Your company produces a new product. And this product is to be photographed so that it can be displayed in catalogues, in the web shop and on the homepage. Which steps are necessary? That is easy, you will say. The following happens:

The product manager wants a picture for his new product,
so we choose the right agency and
mail you the request and the templates for the contracts for the usage rights.
They will then take the photos and
provide us with a CD containing the finished product photos and application pictures as well as the completed and signed contracts.
Our product manager checks the pictures,
then imports them into our image database and indexes them.
Finally, he writes a mail to the website editors,
which then retrieves the image from the database to put it in the shop and on the web.
Congratulations, you have identified a complete workflow and described its contents. But: If we had interviewed another employee of your company now, would the same description have resulted? Probably, but you are not really sure? Don't worry, you are in good company. It is often the case that work processes in companies have been carried out for a long time in a way that makes sense and usually leads to the desired result. We then speak of an ad hoc work process. Or, as one of my old customers liked to put it: "Workflow Management by tradition."

Advantages of standardized processes

Ad-hoc workflows work. But it works better by standardizing the processes. Why better?

There is a sense of security in the actions of the employees. The sequence of activities and responsibilities are defined and documented.

The resources involved, both employees and work equipment, are clearly identified. The times you need to complete your respective subtasks are known from experience and therefore effective resource planning can be carried out.

Shift planning prevents waiting times and overloads at individual stages of the work process.

The overall results can be produced more consistently, that is, more evenly over the course of time.

Generally speaking, the standardization of workflows improves and optimizes machining processes. Employees are relieved and can access information faster. Standardized workflows make business processes more automatic and flexible. Errors that repeat themselves more often can be avoided. This saves time and money.

Standardization in your own company

In principle, standardisation should be carried out in four steps. First take a look at your current situation. Then consider whether everything is already running smoothly or whether some processes can still be optimised. Which work processes are constantly being repeated? Which work processes are currently experiencing the greatest problems? Or for which workflows would the introduction of standards have the greatest positive effect?

Decide on a workflow and record the current status. Gladly also together with other colleagues. 
Then define a clear target state and draw up a plan to achieve the goals. For this purpose, you can create a checklist or brainstorm ideas together. Lists are good to make sure nothing is forgotten and to give structure to the whole thing.

First test the individual points in small groups and see if the standards are already mature. Adapt them if necessary. If the changes have proved successful on a small scale, then apply them to the whole department. Introduced standards can of course be changed again and again and are not intended to last forever. However, they should be questioned from time to time in order to explore possible need for adaptation.

Workflows und DAM Systems

Have you noticed that up to now I have avoided the word workflow and have always used the German word Arbeitsablauf? This is because the word "flow" is especially important to me. For ad hoc processes this flow of activities and results often does not apply, but now that we have standardized everything so that all employees would now work according to your verbal description, I like to call this a workflow.

We should now go and document this workflow using a verbal description and diagrams from a tool for BPMN (Business Process Model And Notation). But the details would probably go beyond the scope of this blog article.

So let's think about another step: automating the workflows. What can be automated? Two points are interesting here: First, the execution of work itself and the transitions between two work steps. Why should these be automated? To reduce throughput times and to minimize errors. Let's go back to our initial example:

First, let's look at the product manager's review of the images. In my experience, this check consists of at least two parts. The first is the technical check, which determines whether the right product was photographed. The second and more complex part is the technical examination, which checks prescribed resolutions, formats or the existence of clipping paths in the image. The first part cannot be automated, unfortunately the image content recognition is not yet that good. But the technical check is technically easy to realize and can be done automatically during import. If the image does not pass the check, it is rejected and the product manager is informed about the reasons. This saves him one step in his work.

Now let's take a look at how the images are provided for the webshop. Here we can shorten the path of the images from the digital asset management to the web shop by a direct interface between the systems. Instead of downloading images from the DAM and inserting them back into the shop, the shop will be able to retrieve the most recent image for a product based on the product number (as soon as it has been imported or if the product manager replaces an existing image). If it does not yet exist, a placeholder is delivered. No new effort is required for the shop managers.


Even in this simple workflow, there are starting points for automation, the presented are only two of them. So: Take a look at your workflows, find them, standardize them and see what work can be done for you in the workflows through automation. Let your work flow...